Tech Review: Roku Digital Video Player

Roku Digital Video Player

The future of the web video is a on demand network that you can watch anywhere at anytime. Well at least that is what I’ve heard it to be. The Roku Digital Video Player expands that anywhere to one more location, the living room television. Right now that video is limited to Netflix and soon to include Amazon’s Video On Demand service, with the possibility of more video channels in in the future.

At its core the Roku Digital Video Player is only a streaming video server. It does not feature a harddrive. So you can never retain a digital copy of the video.

Streaming up to 720p HD video with Netflix only takes a minute at most. You’ll need to buy an HDMI cable and update the box to software version 1.5. The video playback runs smooth and looks great. In the standard definition modes of both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios, the video quality is fuzzy and soft. It looked much worse than DVD resolution. If you enjoy watching your cable provider’s On Demand videos then maybe you might be fine watching Netflix in standard definition.

Another issue with the way Netflix works on this set top box is that it requires users to still interact with their computer. Users have to add movies or TV shows to their Netflix queue via a computer and then that information is instantaneously received by the Roku Digital Video Player. This two step process defeats the purpose of having a separate box in the first place. It would be much better to be able to search for content directly from the box without having to access a computer.

The nice thing about the box, from a design standpoint, is that it is pretty tiny. It’s much smaller than the standard cable DVR box. It features built-in WiFi and also includes an ethernet port. The remote itself is easy to use as it only has 9 buttons total. The worst part about the remote is taking off the backside for the batteries. The backside literally engulfs the remote and becomes a hassle to take off.

It is peculiar as to why Roku did not try to offer more with this device. Their SoundBridge devices are great music players that allow you to stream music from a computer to a sound system. Why not merge this capability with the Digital Video Player, especially when its competitors like the Apple TV offer music playback in addition to video?

$99 for the Roku Digital Video Player is a pretty nice deal. However, for right now, don’t buy it unless you do have a Netflix account. If you do have a Netflix account, be sure that you don’t already own a device that can also be used to stream Netflix video like an Xbox 360. Other than that the Roku Digital Video Player is a solid product.